Lessons on pitching from 'Shark Tank'

How to make your pitch credible, viable and persuasive enough for someone to believe in you and want to put their money on your idea

Indranil Chakraborty

The ABC show Shark Tank, now in its sixth season, is indeed a masterclass in negotiation, pitching, presentation and influence all rolled into one. A show where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to investors (sharks) to convince them to invest their money in the entrepreneur’s venture.

Having been through pitching my new business over the last two years, I get excited and resonate with the passion, the excitement and the anticipation I see in the show.

During these two years I have also had the opportunity to coach entrepreneurs, business leaders, chief executives and sales teams to communicate with impact and help them fine tune their presentation process.

As I watch Shark Tank, I can see there are tonnes of lessons an entrepreneur can derive from the show like lessons on negotiation, the art of listening, valuation, scalability, leverage, etc. However, today, I would like to share some lessons on pitching that I have gleaned from all the binge watching. Tips on how to get a pitch to be credible, viable and persuasive enough for someone to believe in you and want to put their money on your idea.

So here are my five presentation lessons from Shark Tank: personalize your presentation, people buy you first, know your math, show and tell, and finally my favourite - tell a good story.

1. Personalize your presentation

In a world where being able to buy a product tailored for just me is a surrogate for success, it is little wonder that customizing your message for your audience pays rich dividends. The entrepreneurs who do their research about the investors are able to tie their idea into the investor's personal interests, or explain similarities with ideas they have successfully backed in the past. These are the entrepreneurs that have the most reaction and the best chance for getting a deal with the sharks.

Customizing your message for your audience pays rich dividends.

This seems like a really simple idea but I have very rarely seen people make this effort. How many times have we been guilty of making a 'canned' presentation? How many times have we started working on a new presentation on the remains of a previous one? Most people - from leaders to business development managers - give the same presentation over and over again irrespective of the audience in front of them. The excuse is always lack of time.

Well, as everywhere else, even in impactful communication there aren't any short cuts. While I have my list of questions about the audience that I like to have answers to before I start working on the presentation, I’d like to point you to a brilliant free resource available online. Google "Mackay 66". This is a detailed battery of questions about the audience designed by Harvey Mackay, the best-selling author of the book Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. It would probably never be possible to have the answers to all 66 questions, but the list is a good place to start. Simple things like using title slides customized for the audience, using the tribal language of the group, referring to people in the audience by their name and referring to specific challenges you know they have can all go a long way to establish the connect. People care when they see that you have made the effort. As a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt says, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

2. People buy you first

Taking the liberty to remould the quote above, I would say, "people don’t care about your idea before they care about you".

Episode after episode, I have heard the sharks say, "I can’t invest in you." I have heard this as often as: "Your business plan doesn’t deserve this valuation."

When you are pitching, presenting or evangelizing your idea in any other way, ask yourself: "would people invest in me?"

When you are pitching, presenting or evangelizing your idea in any other way, ask yourself: "would people invest in me?" This is about personal credibility and believability. Any angel investor, venture capitalist, anyone from a private equity fund, will tell you that they invest in the founder as much as in the idea.

This is where beginning your presentation with your personal connection stories becomes so powerful. Connection stories help your listeners make an inference about your character and helps you build rapport.

3. Know your math

One of the things that increases your credibility is knowing your numbers. After all, the sharks will put money if they believe you know exactly where you are going. If you asked for a crore for 10% equity, then you must know all numbers that support the Rs 10 crore valuation. The investors would want to know why is it worth that amount. Sales projections (unit, revenue), asset values currently held and required, margin, overheads, costs, advertising to sales ratios. The sharks are totally unimpressed with passion alone. The dump yard of the shark tank is heaped with entrepreneurs who did not show an acute understanding of numbers along with their display of passion.

The sharks will put money if they believe you know exactly where you are going.

In my 21 years across corporates, I have seen potential partners come to sell us everything from hardware to software to services of every kind. And I have seen many perish because they responded to questions on facts, figures and numbers with "may I get back to you on that" or with an answer fabricated on the spot and demolished within seconds.

4. Show and tell

All through school my favourite periods were those which had 'show and tell'. With show and tell the narrative moves from an idea or an imagination to something real. This is essential when we are all trying to get onto the same page. I have often seen this lacking even among marketers who can bring the presentation alive with samples, prototypes and collaterals. When abstraction moves to concreteness, it makes it easier for people to be persuaded. Many an unsuccessful contestant in Shark Tank floundered when they couldn't bring alive their idea and couldn't give a demonstration. One of the most successful pitches a friend pointed me to was by an entrepreneur named Adam Riley with a foldable electric skateboard. One of the judges even used it on the spot and it worked perfectly. Riley had all the sharks battling each other to invest. Can you think of how you can bring your product or service alive in your next presentation and make it tangible?

When abstraction moves to concreteness, it makes it easier for people to be persuaded.

5. Tell a good story

Those of you who follow my column know that I am a huge advocate of good storytelling. As a communication consultant and coach, my clients and I have time and again seen the impact that a well told narrative can make. It is also a very important skill to influence the sharks. And a very powerful tool when one is presenting or speaking to persuade. As you know, I am not talking about fiction. As usual, my definition of story is, a fact wrapped in context and delivered with emotion. A good approach to sharing a business story or a vision is using the clarity story pattern I described in detail in my previous column.

Without a good story, your product or service is just another also ran.

Without a good story, your product or service is just another also ran. They are like many other product and service pitches that the same audience has heard before. Persuasive stories add context, emotion and relevance to your offering and raise it from being something mediocre to something magical. Something we all want to be part of. So go ahead and add these tips to your next pitch and then let me know how it went.

[This article was published concurrently in Mint]

Was this article useful? Sign up and we'll send you articles like this every week. Here's a sample

Comments

Login to comment

Rajesh Jain on Jun 09, 2015 7:10 p.m. said

Too good !!

About the author

Indranil Chakraborty
Indranil Chakraborty

Founder

Storyworks

Indranil believes Business Storytelling will be the number one leadership and communication skill of the next decade. Using storytelling in the right manner, business leaders can connect, engage and inspire their teams. We are 22 times more likely to remember a story than disconnected facts. This is how he believes we can harness the natural power of stories to communicate strategy, make them stick, bring values to live and develop the communication capabilities of leaders.

Also by me

You might also like